Alan Grofé is a 72-year-old, semi-retired entrepreneur and former tech executive with frost-white hair, two grown children and five grandchildren.
He’s also the guy in that viral video, dancing his face off among the bikini and neon-clad kids at the 2016 Sunset Music Festival. More than half a million people watched it, posting selfie after selfie they’d snapped with the always smiling Grofé in the comments.
Grofé stands out, but he’s never out of place at the massive celebration of electronic dance music, a genre, perhaps more than any other, associated with the free-spiritedness of youth.
His daughter says “he’s the one who got me into trance.” And Grofé still carries a torch for old-school drum and bass, even though that scene “just isn’t the same anymore.” He spent his last birthday on the floor at Orlando dance club .
Aside from being a fixture at EDM fests around Florida, he’s also a newly-minted Tampa Bay resident, having moved to Apollo Beach with his wife of four-plus decades — “a great partner in life” — earlier this year.
If you’re headed to SMF this weekend, look for the guy on the grass dancing in running shoes. Grofé’s going for a third straight year. We tracked him down to ask what it’s like to be beloved for being the old guy at the party.
How do you feel about going viral, and the nickname ‘rave pops’?
I was like, ‘holy mackerel.’ People have taken pictures of me before, but nothing has gotten around like that video. As for rave pops, I hadn’t noticed that, but whatever they want. If that becomes a thing, I’m fine with it.
People speculated you were just some guy who happened to be at SMF randomly and went for it on camera. Are you really an EDM fan?
I’ve loved electronic dance music, as it’s now called, since 1995 when my family bought me a Sony Walkman CD player. My son gave me a big stack of CDs, they weren’t even in cases, and said ‘here.’ They were all metal, but there was a green one with no writing on it. I was like, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ It reminded me of Jean-Michel Jarre. My son later asked, ‘How’d you like the CDs?’ I said, ‘They’re all terrible, except for one, but it doesn’t have a name on it.’ He said, ‘Oh man, that’s my orb CD. You give that back.’ I fought with him over it. I had to give it back, but I went to Tower Records and asked about The Orb and they pointed me to this tiny electronica section in the back. I bought five CDs, and that was the start of it.
When did you start dancing and going to festivals?
The first time I got the courage to go out, I went with my son to a club on July 4. He just told me to stay the hell away from him. That was the only condition he had. ‘Just go do your thing, Dad.’ That night, he was dancing and having a good time with his friends. It got later, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll just go over and say hi.’ I went over and I leaned in close and said, ‘I’m having a great time’ and he glared at me. He said, ‘Dad, stay away from me, they’re gonna think you’re a narc!’
This was the ’90s. Were you going to old-school raves?
Yes. I’d go alone and they were in these dark warehouses in D.C. You’d get an address from someone, and you’d go, and it wouldn’t even be the real address. Some guy would be standing there outside and he’d look you over. If you seemed OK, he’d give you a paper with the real address.
What’s it like to have people saying “I want to be just like you some day”?
I’m really encouraged. To have young people feel that strongly that I represent what they’d like to be, it’s very gratifying. I’m not just a guy who hangs around. I love the music. I’m friends with promoters, and I follow the DJ’s careers as they’re coming up. But lately, all the sudden, people have become more interested in taking photos with me whenever I go out. I’m happy if it inspires them to live a life they love. The one I see a lot is people tagging their friends in the comments saying, “look, this is us in 30 years!”
There were some serious issues at the last SMF. Drugs were linked to two deaths. What did you think when people said ‘shut it down’?
That stuff has always been a problem. Drugs have been a part of the music scene from as far back as the ’20s and ’30s. This scene is not always portrayed positively, but let me tell you, I’m from the ’60s, and I can relate, because in the ’60s people thought it was nothing but drug infested clubs and kids smoking grass and doing coke. That gets fixated on, but the other part of it, the friendships, the enjoyment, the incredible encouragement between people, that’s what I love to see. There’s an old phrase from the early days of it: PLUR. It stood for peace, love, unity and respect, and I still feel that. It has kind of gotten more commercial, but there was lot of that feeling in the early days that it was a movement and it was all about loving each other and enjoying life. I try to keep that alive.
Would others your age enjoy this stuff if they gave it a shot?
They definitely would! The music is quite different than people my age were raised with, like the Beatles and the Stones. It’s alien to them, but it was alien to me too. Remember, I was 52 when I started going out to the clubs. I just went and observed. If you like to dance at all — I was in a semi-professional ballroom dancing troupe when I was 11 — you can enjoy it. I’d love to see more people in their 50s, 60s or 70s. People forget, rock n’ roll was all dancing. If you went to a rock club in the ’60s or ’70s, everyone danced. If people gave music and dancing more priority in their life, and didn’t give up on it because the music changed, they’d have a lot of fun.
You look great at 72. How do you stay so fit?
When I was 45, suddenly my stomach extended out. I thought, what can I do where I don’t have to drag someone else along like tennis or basketball?’ I said, ‘I can run out the front door,’ so I did. I went a quarter mile and was out of breath. Now I’ve been running and racing in 5 and 10ks for 27 years. I run so I can dance, and that’s really kept me going. In many ways, the runs are like these festivals. There’s a camaraderie there, and all shapes and sizes of people, and they’re all out there together.